The music was loud. Loud enough that he didn’t hear the chair collide with the wall, tools scattering into the air, then banging onto the floor.
It was a sort of rage that was utterly recreational. A push, and that was all that was needed for him to go off. Like his moods lived on a swing. All it took was a simple push.
Recreational, yet fulfilling. He needed this. Craved it. The freedom to do, the freedom to be. Addicting, and he was his own supplier.
And here? He also had the freedom to destroy.
Everything in the garage was his. The sports cars, the vintage motorcycles, the guns. Organized according to manufacturers, then year. Everything in the condominium was his. To be precise, he owned the whole building. The crown jewel of his decades of hard labor. Building an empire wasn’t easy, but it certainly was rewarding.
The vehicles were clean, the walls white, the area well-lit. A complicated sound system blasted the music throughout the garage, a deep bass rumbling mirrors and windows. Guns rattled where they were situated on a wall, but they wouldn’t fall. The cleanliness didn’t necessarily fit Styx’s nature, but it didn’t have to. He had the means to afford it, and the means to indulge himself in it.
However, despite the otherwise well-kept status of the garage, there was one third of the space that he allowed to be dirty. The innermost section of the garage. His workstation, where he kept his projects and other endeavors. Here, was where he was most free. Tools and knives and guns were strewn about, dirt marks were streaked across the floor and walls. Dark splotches of paint and blood touched the ceilings. Various tables with various tools and gadgets, randomly placed, unlike how his cars and motorcycles were lined up. He liked the contrast, how things didn’t necessarily go from one to the other.
He liked the chaos.
Again, Styx roared. It strained.
As he let himself come down from his fit, he grabbed a towel off of a table, wiping sweat off of his body. He was shirtless, wearing only black skinny jeans and black boots. Tattoos of different images were sketched across his chest, torso, and arms. Pagan, tarot, Lovecraftian.
Styx bent down where the chair had landed. He picked up a wrench, gripping it tight in his hand. He turned, then stopped.
He went to another metal table, where other tools laid, available. A remote was there, too. Without having to lift it, he pressed a finger on a button. The music was immediately cut.
“Victor,” Styx said, but he didn’t hear himself. A high ringing had replaced the noisy, industrial instrumental.
‘Victor’ answered with a lift of his chin.
His clothes were simple, but it was all he had time to procure. Things were moving, quickly, and Victor had little in the way of leisure time. A white shirt, tucked into blue denim jeans. Light brown boots. Round, large sunglasses adorned his face.
He ran his fingers through his hair, despite the bandages wrapped around his palm. Though, there wasn’t much there, thanks to his buzz cut.
“I’m surprised you haven’t blown out your ears yet,” Victor said, having to raise his voice for Styx to hear. The proper security measures were set up across the building, even though it wasn’t necessary. Anyone who knew, knew to stay away.
After one of Styx’s men escorted the two back to the condo, and after the two spent some time catching up, Styx had told Victor the different words and numbers necessary to let himself in. Told. Styx trusted he wouldn’t write it down, and was confident in Victor’s ability to memorize a few letters and digits.
Victor had taken the wooden stairs down to the garage, the glass door behind him. A large, brown paper bag sat at his feet.
“You were okay with being out in the open?” Styx asked instead, as if Victor’s concern wasn’t worth addressing. “No issues?”
“None. I know how to keep my head down.”
“Don’t want to spoil your arrival to the Feds?”
“Oh yeah, I prefer being the uninvited guest. Makes things interesting. Especially if I bring gifts.”
Styx nodded. His brow was still furrowed, his eyes wild, like he was still maintaining a hold on the anger that gripped him not too long ago. He creeped over to the middle of the garage, towards his bike, to actually get some work done on it.
“It’s just a few scratches, Styx, I don’t see why you need to tune up the whole-”
Styx cut him off.
“They fucked up King of Pentacles!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs, referring to his bike. “I’ll whip the bitch who did it!”
King of Pentacles. The motorcycle was a mechanical embodiment of Styx’s career in the underground. Originally a used bike he stole almost thirty years ago, he’d built upon it, adding where it was needed, stripping away where it was least efficient. Now, it was a bike that perfectly represented his status in the city. Not how he viewed himself, necessarily, but how others should view him.
An all-black custom chopper. Sleek, elegant, but with a edge to it that made people steer clear of it, turning another way if they simply saw it parked, somewhere. Styx preferred functionality over aesthetics, but it worked, here. The large engine at the bottom resembled something of a ribcage, and the headlight was encased in a plating that resembled Cthulhu. Asymmetric slits allowed light to bleed through, with tentacles reaching forward to hold the front tire. It had a form, but nothing definite, concrete. It left things to the imagination, and most didn’t want to be around to ponder over it.
And Styx saw where scratches defiled the bike, where dents fucked up his handiwork. Though few, and negligible, it make his blood boil.
Angrily, Styx went back to finishing the final touches on his bike. If anyone could work the nuts and bolts of a motorcycle with anger, it was Styx.
“We’re not even taking King of Pentacles to the meeting,” Victor said. “You can fix it later.”
“This is my bike,” Styx replied, in a much more reserved manner. “You know that.”
“And you know I know that, I’m just telling you that it can wait. The meeting’s in an hour, and you’re the only one with clearance to take me.”
Styx twisted with the wrench, making more adjustments. “I don’t give a fuck. Everyone can wait. You, Mister, and those fucks. My shit takes precedence over their shit.” He yelled, as though to verbally form an exclamation point. It rang throughout the garage. That, he heard.
“Then I have no choice but to wait.” Styx heard Victor walk through the workstation, picking up the chair that Styx had thrown, and sat in it.
“Man, this city hasn’t really changed much since I left,” Victor said. “More of the same. Except, there’s actually more. More gangs, more drugs, more shit. I commend you for keeping things together.”
“It’s easy,” Styx said, keeping it short.
“I’ll say. You’re living lavish. I’d comment and suggest that the wealth has made you soft, but it clearly hasn’t.”
Styx didn’t respond, focusing too much on King of Pentacles.
From behind him, Victor murmured, or spoke at a normal enough volume that Styx couldn’t pick it up. The ringing was only now starting to subside.
“Yeah?” Styx questioned.
“Right, the music. I was talking… there’s one new player in all this, huh?”
Styx knew exactly what he was talking about. Who, to be precise.
“‘The Bluemoon.’ Or, didn’t you mention another name?”
“Your humor is still on point, Styx. No, I mean an actual name.”
“Last night, when I got a call from a police station that I’m good with. John told us everything. Told us it went by ‘Blank Face.’”
“That was it. If it went by another name, couldn’t it just be another super… thing?”
“That’s a whole different question. All I know is, that’s the same one that came by the yard. The physical description matched up. It was a good thing I kept watch, in the distance.”
“Blank Face, huh.”
Then, Victor laughed, without warning. Styx kept working.
“The hell? I’m not impressed at all!” Victor exclaimed. “I was thinking it’d be some terrifying figure, but all I saw was some clown with a limp arm. What kind of hero can I just kick out the back of a truck, and you come in to break their arms. What a little bitch.”
Styx giggled to himself. It was manic, uneven in pitch. “Heh, lil’ bitch.”
“That’s why I had to ask if that really was The Bluemoon I’ve seen on TV. It shouldn’t have been that easy.”
“That was our Blueballs for sure, but does it really matter? The meeting is still happening, they still want to talk about this.”
Victor sighed, letting out another chuckle. “Hah, I get it, though. There’s more to it than that, and that’s what they’re pissing themselves over. We’ll all go over it then. But, I’m not going to say it didn’t take the wind out of my sails, even just a bit. I sit for thirty-six hours in the back of a truck, smelling like shit, only for it to be almost unbelievable easy to take the hero out. Do you see what I’m getting at?”
“Maybe being a ‘hero’ isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.”
Styx pulled away the wrench, and patted the leather seat of the bike. He stood, facing Victor. “Don’t get ahead of yourself. If taking out Blueballs was all he needed you to do, Mister wouldn’t have asked for you. And what you perceive to be a minor threat is still a threat. You don’t get to where I am by underestimating bitches.”
Victor lifted his hands, placating. “I know, I know. I’ve got work to do.” He groaned.
Victor casted a glance at Styx. “What about you? You scared of this, thing? It escaped, went after your guys, last night.”
Styx answered plainly, truthfully. “Me? Nah. If anything, I’m curious.”
Victor stared at Styx, and he stared back. Blankly.
Victor dropped his shoulders, grumbling, and lazily pointed to a corner of Styx’s workstation. “Um, I was trying to find a way to bring this to your attention, but… Aren’t you going to introduce me?”
Styx looked, and remembered that the man tied to a chair was there.
He was blindfolded, with no clothes, save for his underwear. Twitching, shaking. His mouth shuddered, but no sound came forth.
He dripped of blood and sweat and tears, his blindfold most dark where his eyes should be. His chair was placed on top of multiple mats, placed into a large square. Normally used for dogs, the mats caught the blood and urine that slid down the chair’s legs.
“My payment for agreeing to see through you crossing the border. You might recognize him, you sat by him for thirty-six hours.”
Victor frowned. “This is why society agreed to put value into things like green paper.”
Victor shifted in his seat. Not because he was alarmed, Styx knew, but because he went to reach for his phone. Styx took that as a chance to check his, too.
“Bored?” Victor asked, looking at his phone.
“Stress reliever,” Styx replied, while looking at his, “And practice for when I get that bitch who fucked King of Pentacles.”
“The more things change, the more they stay the same, then.”
The man was becoming audible, now, but no one paid heed to him. The man whimpered while Styx checked his phone.
Victor put his phone away. “So, you almost finished, here? I’ll leave a better impression if I show up early. You know, like an actual professional.”
“Eh.” Styx put his phone in his pants pocket. “Let me get my stuff, then.”
Victor griped again, as he got out of the chair. “Styx, if you’re so bored being here, in this city, why haven’t you left, yet? You could’ve visited me.”
“Yes, again. Nothing’s honestly tying you down, you could leave anytime you want, let the city burn behind you while you see the world.”
“Like what you did?”
Styx looked to Victor, his chin tilted up some to make up for the height difference. He had no expression. “That’s what makes us different. You wanted to see the world, I wanted to make my own.”
Victor smiled. “And that’s the only difference?”
Styx’s lack of expression stayed.
Victor then nodded, as if taking it all in. “I suppose that still makes me Remus, and you Romulus,” he said.
“Careful, I haven’t killed you yet.”
“If it ever comes to that, you’ll die, too,” Victor said. “Of boredom.”
Styx actually cracked something of a smile to that, though twisted, unhinged.
Before Styx could let the moment get the better of him, he turned, retrieving his leather jacket, putting it on over his bare torso. He didn’t bother to bring a gun. His presence would be enough. Victor followed, taking the paper bag he brought in with him.
“You can pick which car we take,” Styx said.
Styx took to a corner of the room. Fitting, to how much of a role he played in this. A willing, listening participant, but not necessarily an active one.
Others began filing in, sitting around a round table. Some were in more casual wear, but most elected to wear suits. Mostly men, but two women were in attendance, already waiting.
Styx rested his tongue on his upper lip.
Victor sat next to him, watching as the rest came into the high-rise restaurant. The room was dimly lit, sensual, if Styx wanted to be poetic, which he sometimes liked to be. A light jazz tune wafted about the area, almost as if the room had housed the essence of this music, and the building, the floor, the room, was built in accommodation to it.
Styx looked at them all, uncaring. They weren’t even a third of the gangs that had a hold on the city.
He listed the names of the different mobsters. Arthur, Brian, Cassius, D’Angelo, Edward, Forest, Gary, Hayden, Inez.
All separate, yet connected by a single thread…
And they were completely oblivious.
“Is Mister gonna make it, Styx?” It was D’Angelo, calling from across the room. Leader of one of the Italian mobs.
“No,” Styx replied, at half the volume. “He’s sitting it out. I can fill him in, if he wants.”
D’Angelo motioned to the whole room, as everyone took their seats. “This isn’t enough for him to show? This isn’t important enough to appear in person, for once?”
“It may look that way to stupider eyes, but I am not his keeper. If he found a more pressing matter to deal with instead, that’s on him.”
“He called the meeting!”
“Calm down, D’Angelo,” Inez said, ushering him to sit. “We can still have a discussion and act without him. So let’s try to be punctual.”
D’Angelo sat, and Inez looked pleased with herself. The leader of a cartel on the south side. A real cougar with the power to dominate. So badly, Styx wanted to fuck that grin right off of her face.
He tried to keep still.
“Let’s get started then, brother,” Forest said, pointing to Victor. “Man of the hour.”
Victor took that cue, leaving his seat to approach the circle. He brought his bag with him.
“That’s what I am. ‘Kay, I’ll make the introduction short. Most of you, we go way back, and it’s nice to see you all again.” He gestured with a small bow to the table.
“The rest of you who are not familiar, I’m probably the reason why you’re at this table, today, and absolutely the reason why Mister can afford to miss such a meeting. To be cocky, I produce results.”
Some of the mobsters exchanged glances. The ones who didn’t know him. The naïve ones.
“To all you new folk, don’t waste the energy trying to decide whether or not I’m the real deal. I am. Let’s all just accept that, and we’ll all be a lot richer for it, in the end.”
Victor set the paper bag down on the table, next to Arthur. Arthur pointed to it, and Victor motioned, letting him take a peek inside.
Styx leered to himself when he saw Arthur’s reaction.
“Are you mad? What are you thinking, bringing-”
“Now, now,” Victor interrupted. “Let’s not get so irritable so soon. You’ll find that it may come in handy, one day.”
Arthur grumbled, and passed the bag down for Brian to look inside. His reaction was more understated, Styx saw, but he couldn’t quite hide the fear. Brian passed the bag down, and the bag made its round trip. The ones who already had a rapport with Victor masked their trepidation well. The others did not.
Styx knew Victor was making a show of things, but it was only because he had to confidence to do so. The repertoire.
“Let’s start with the obvious, yeah? Why are we all here, today, having a meeting over a light breakfast?”
The mobsters looked amongst each other.
“Tough crowd,” Victor said. “Then, I won’t tiptoe around it anymore. The Bluemoon. Or ‘Blank Face,’ from what I’ve heard on the streets.” Victor put his hands into air quotes when he said ‘Blank Face.’ “A very indecisive individual, this one.”
Victor started snapping his fingers, looking expectant.
“What do we want to call this individual? Bluemoon, Blank Face, hero, vigilante, monster…”
“Lil’ bitch,” Styx yelled out.
“Thanks for that, Styx, but I’ll just go ahead and use ‘Blank Face.’ If that’s what they want to be called, then I’ll respect their wishes.”
Hayden, the other female mob boss, leaned in with her elbows on the table, her chin resting on her hands. “Are you going to at least pretend that you’re taking this seriously?”
Styx squinted. One of the naïve ones.
“Oh, I am. Wouldn’t want to waste a perfectly good sightseeing opportunity. Yes, this Blank Face has been causing some trouble for the lot of you. Even its very existence raises some issues. Coupled with the fact that the National Guard might sweep the streets to find the vigilante, and not to mention all the media coverage placed on the city because of it, that’s a lot of eyes on things we don’t want to be looked at, no?”
Hayden fell back into her seat. Styx couldn’t see it from his view, but he read that she crossed her legs.
Victor kept going. “This may be unprecedented, but we’re not blind and in the dark. There are some things we do know about Blank Face. I’m sure all of you have heard by now, but Blank Face decided to pay me a visit, last night.”
A few had worried expression. Styx knew what that would imply, that he was incapable, or vulnerable, to an assault by Blank Face or another party. That he somehow slipped up, able to be taken advantage of. He hated that implication. He could have pushed, and killed any one of them for thinking that, if he wanted to.
Styx had an outlet for his frustrations at home.
A feeling stirred within Styx.
Arthur spoke. “Is that why you’re trying to act so nonchalant about this? To save face after seeing the devil?”
Victor was motionless, not responding to that comment.
“We were close to capturing it,” Victor said, fixing his sunglasses, “Maybe even closer to killing it, last night. I was able to subdue it and distract it enough for Styx to do his thing. Two broken arms, strangulation, at least. Who knows what we managed internally. Blank Face managed to walk away from that.”
Suddenly, there was no room for levity. The table was dead quiet.
“How, how are you so sure?” It was Cassius who had to balls to say something.
Styx spoke. Everyone turned their heads. “Our transport of Blank Face was interrupted, and it got away. My men told me afterwards that Blank Face was soon active, moving like nothing ever happened.”
Victor gave Styx a thumbs up. “Which brings me to my next point. Bla-”
“You’re fucking telling us that thing can’t die!”
The voice was too on edge, too shrill, to point to a source. Panic was rushing into the hearts of the mobsters, at the revelation. Styx took a glance at his phone.
“Everyone, please, settle yourselves!” Victor had to raise his voice to be heard above the uproar. “You’re going to scare our hard working servers!”
Some turned, Styx did, too. A small team of young waiters stood, flustered at what to do. One had a platter of crepes and omelets. Another had his hands around an intricately designed cart, with pancakes and cups of coffee on it. But he was still.
Styx silently judged as the mobsters started to right themselves, straightening their backs. Victor gave the servers the okay to approach.
“To address the table’s concerns,” Victor said, “It appears that Blank Face has some sort of improved healing. But, do not let that scare you. Blank Face can be taken down, and it may be easy for it to get back up, that point remains. We just need to hit back, hard. Harder.”
“And how do you propose to do that?” someone asked. Styx couldn’t tell.
Victor, now, had started walking around the table. Styx only saw the back of his head, but he knew what his expression would be. He mouthed it in time with Victor.
“I’m working on it.”
“You’re… working on it?” Forest.
“Yes, my man, working on it. I’ll give you the proper pitch when I have it more developed, probably by later tonight, so I’m hoping I’ll have your… support.”
“We’ll see if it’s good enough for that.”
“Thank you very much. I don’t want to spoil what I have right now, but I’m thinking something theatrical? We have people in masks, now, performing magic and tricks. I suggest we play into that a bit.”
“Wait, people?” Inez questioned, stressing that second word.
“Oh, I almost forgot! Everyone was losing it a moment ago…” Victor scratched his throat, before saying, “Blank Face isn’t working alone.”
Styx could feel it in the room, the panic coming back, but no one wanted to fall into it. Not anymore. Styx remained calm.
“‘Fraid not. One of Styx’s Ferrymen were interrupted by Blank Face, earlier in the night, before it came to us. A van came to get him. A man in a bird mask accompanies Blank Face.”
The two women went pale. Styx, instead, seethed at the mention of the van. “There’s… there’s more of them?”
Victor shook his head. “That’s one of the things we don’t know. I’m inclined to say yes, just to be careful.”
Murmurs among the mobsters, unsure of what to make of the possibility of at least two superhumans working against them. Styx couldn’t help but think of ways to rip them apart, instead. And if they could recover from that, then more fun for him.
“What more do we know of this man in the bird mask?” Inez asked.
“Not much, but they were probably in constant communication with each other.”
Styx had realized that Victor never mentioned how they got interrupted by the van, how it crashed into King of Pentacles. At this meeting, too many details were coming out that were frightening the mobsters. It wouldn’t do to have them completely chicken out and not want to hear Victor’s plans. Or was it better that he play into that, getting more support?
Or, was Victor trying to protect Styx’s rep? As if he needed it, but, if so, Styx appreciated the effort.
D’Angelo cut into his pancake, then ate, chewing slowly. After washing it down with coffee he asked, “And you think you can take them on, not knowing what you don’t know?”
“Oh, I can. The battle isn’t as uphill as you’re insinuating it be. The whole world is even more fearful of Blank Face. By the by, I love the riot idea. I say we do more of that, while we’re at it.”
The different members of the table nodded. Styx loved the idea, too.
“If we play our cards right, this might turn out to be a problem that solves itself. Again, more details to come.”
Forest raised his cup, looking around for a waiter. “Ah, man, that’s enough of the Blank Face talk, for now. Getting me sick to my stomach. Brother, we’ll patiently await your pitch.”
Victor had wrapped around the table, his back to Styx. He brought both hands up. Peace signs.
While the others got to their breakfast, Hayden asked, “Is there anything else we want to bring up?”
Arthur set down his fork. “There’s one thing.”
Victor leaned close. “Hmm?”
“Don’t know the name, sorry.”
“He’s a lawyer. Pain in the ass, with the potential of becoming a bigger one.”
“Elections for the next DA are coming up, and it looks like he’s going to take it. We had our guy, John Cruz, but the public adores Thompson. He’s squeaky clean, going on a platform of ‘hope’ and ‘courage’ in the face of adversity. ‘Wander no more,’ he says. It’s bullshit, but they’re eating it up.”
Victor fixed a sleeve. “Squeaky clean does present a problem.”
“Him being in office isn’t going to help us any. Harsher punishments on any alleged corruption in the police force, and he’s advocating for harsher punishments for any possible connection to any gang activity, however minute. He was instrumental in bringing down one of the Cobras. They’re still shaken up about it.”
“No.” Victor looked legitimately disheartened, hearing that. He brought a finger to his chin, thinking.
“So you understand why I brought it up? If he can do that much without holding an official office…”
Victor snapped his fingers. “Say no more, I can take care of it.”
No one did say more, seemingly satisfied. Everyone continued eating. A minute with only small talk, then Victor walked back to Styx, bringing his bag with him.
“Doing okay?” Victor asked.
Styx grunted, non-committal.
“Hey, I’ll need your help in this, in all of this.”
“As long as you keep it entertaining.”
“I’ll plan around it.”
They both smiled, Styx’s much more menacing. Victor was a man of his word, and he was looking forward to it as much as he was.
Styx was ready to push.